Friday 7 January 2011

SOUTH AFRICA - The Unbeatable Wild Life Experience

July 12, 2008, Johannesburg, South Africa : It was around 4 AM in the morning, pitch dark and 2 souls awake in the morning, one not so enthusiastic, till he was there – there at the Pilanesberg Wild Life Sanctuary, my maiden experience in the wild (in my whole senses, besides the ones when I was a small kid). We were on a South Africa business visit for the International Partners business of the bank post which I wanted a Saturday to be spent in the Wild of Africa, post much of Discovery Channel pumping in. With me was Gautam Sehgal who I convinced to join in with an add-on of the Sun City visit (where Ms. Worlds or Universe were held) in the evening ;)

The Pilanesberg National Park is situated in the Northwest province, about a 2 hour drive northwest of Johannesburg. The park ranks among the largest of the national parks in South Africa (it is in fact the fourth largest park), and covers an area of 55,000 hectares. It also has the bonus of being a non-malaria area and is home to the 'Big 5' – Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard.

A Dark green Pajero arrived at our hotel in the morning, with a 7 ft African (Vincent) greeting us enthusiastically at 4 in the morning with a warm namaste, courtesy his regular business with the bank and Indian officials visiting South Africa and courtesy my friend Afzal Azmi who had almost imbibed many DNAs of India in him !

We left and post 2 hours of lovely drive, experiencing the sun break in the midway reached the gates of the Pilanesberg Game Sanctuary. It was yet little dark and to our first surprise was the “Declaration Form” which made us sign on various terms, the most astonishing one “ I would be responsible for any accident or death caused due to any circumstances in the sanctuary and not the government or the sanctuary authorities. Like normal humans, since all were signing and as there was no scope of questioning at 6 in the morning, we too signed and moved ahead.

As we entered the scene around of the lovely jungle game me the dejavu of the discovery channels with light orange long grassland and a flat topography. And soon the 10-12 jeeps which entered together at the gate vanished into thi9n air.  The first animal which we saw, I still clearly remember was a Rhino along with a Baby Rhino, and that too while passing by, as in we did not put in any major efforts finding them as they were on their morning walks. The first sight of the large animal bigger than our Pajero was like still a dream. We waited there for the movement, though they did not much, we clicked a few pictures and moved ahead as Vincent said theres lot to se, as he has visited this place around 5 times.

The next 30 mins were boring, not being able to find any animal around, though a few birds which Vincent showed us but we were typical Indians and cared least for wasting time on the birds, wherein the britishers and Americans were shooting them as if they were more dearer than their spouses.

Soon, we entered into a different topography, a bit hilly at the end, but a greener grassland and we saw a scene which beats our first encounter – a herd of more than 100 Zebras ! The scene was fascinating…. The color scheme was breathtaking, any camera could not have captured. And as we moved closer, saw a few different type of animals camouflaged in the herd of zebras. They were neither horse, not goat, nor deer, but a mix of all called the wild beasts. This animal was fascinating as had never learned about it in school or as a child in a zoo or circus !  Well, this was just the beginning as per Vincent. He drove further and soon we neared a big lake and he stopped and asked us to stay silent. We did so ! But post 5 minutes asked him does he see something and he said he did, but now that something was not visible and soon in a while we saw a stone like structure move in the water and emerging on a bank near me and another smaller stone too flowing in. As it emerged, we knew we had encountered the Hippo and the Baby Hippo and Vincent felt or knew that and since these animals are extremely shy and sensitive, he had asked us to be absolutely silent and not murmur a word amongst us.

We moved further and saw many monkeys (Indians don’t care much as we keep seeing them so often, but there are 23 types of monkeys, 8 of them in this park) and also beautiful deers. Soon Vincent screeched and stopped on the way and showed us porcupines running into bushes, which we just managed to quickly take a note of. Hats off to Vincent for his sense of identifying or catching a life in the thick dense African forest. He says it’s the local tribal instinct and he is mostly right. We moved further and again halted as Vincent literally got out of the window to find us a huge herd of African Elephants ! They were far, but beautiful – thanks to my Sony 40X Digicam which could capture what the cameras could not and what a beauty – much different than the Indian elephants, these animals had huge ears and long white tusks and Vincy thanked, that they were not near !

Being so much impressed with Vincent and his instincts, and having seen these animals, we – the typical Indians asked for just one thing to Vincent – show us some Big ones ! Well, the park housed some lions and leopards but these animals were difficult to sight as the forest his huge and its purely on luck, where instincts also don’t work. But there are ways to arrive to this luck. Well, we were asked to hold our expectations low, so we don’t feel too bad if we don’t see one, but the overall package with so many animals was definitely much important. Vincent promised us more excitement and he only knew why and how.

We quickly had our breakfast (packed one at hotel) at a common point, where tourists were allowed to step down, refresh and answer the natures call. It was around 11 noon. And we spent 5 hrs in the wild.
                         
We moved further and Vincent drove us suddenly over some hill, don’t know how and where did it emerge from and asked us confidently to await some surprise and soon we were in a terrain with long trees all around on a plain bushy land and then came our surprise – the tall shining giraffes – not one but many. This topography with tall trees was the best for the giraffes and our man Afro knew it – I shall call it common sense now and no instinct. As we traveled we saw many giraffes and one thing was common none were single. Were always with one to three fellow companions and then were told that these are unconfident animals and like to stay in small groups, of like minded ones, though not in herds. And 3 of them together can make hell out of a lions life and Vincent has seen a lioness being kicked 10 ft in the air by one of the giraffe. The best part with Vincent was to learn the detailed nature and habits of each animal.

Well, now the desire was to see the King of the Jungle and it was getting dark and we desperate, but Vincy said not to worry as dawn and dusk are the best time to trace the Big 5s and imagine what we encountered a Lion and Lioness and Majestic was the only adjective which could describe the scene. What and experience at Pilanesberg – a dream come true  ! And at this place took birth of my Bug for the Wild and Nature and I said to myself – India has much and why haven’t I explored it ?

We moved to Sun City post the great day and returned back to our hotel rooms as satisfied as cracking a big deal… but as a greedy human, the real dream is still due- the Masai Mara – Kenya-Tanzania migration experience in Africa – Hope to realize this dream soon !


VINCENT, GAUTAM & MYSELF












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